Archive for ‘God’s love’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

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New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

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2013/10/30

Recovery in Question

Recovery in question...

Recovery in question…

Emma turns 14 this weekend. I can’t really believe that 14 years have passed. I can’t believe that in 4 or 5 years my nest might be empty. To celebrate this momentous birthday, an age marking awkwardness but also independence, we are having a party. Not just a party, but a Masquerade Ball.

It is sooooo Emma. There’s a dress code for boys and girls. There’s a fabulous menu, beautiful masks, a long song list for DJ Doug. And I’m hoping the songs I don’t know won’t embarrass me or the other adult guests coming or that my dance moves don’t embarrass my daughter. Who am I kidding?

In the vein of throwing a classy party, I mean Ball, we are trying to stay away from the usual party fare of chex mix and BBQ wienies. But since our budget won’t allow for a caterer, I’m the chef at hand. That sounded like a great plan when we were leisurely driving over fall break, planning the menu and decor.

Now in a week that has turned stupid by all of the things that have hard and fast deadlines, including the Ball, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed. I’ve had delicious moments of energy and productivity, but the pile is so very large and daunting on both professional and home fronts. So the other side is me barking and grumbling and nagging for someone in the universe to please help! Like someone who is 13.95 years old who I live with…“Hey you there, offspring, help me!”

The result is sorry-filled teenager staring blankly. “What can I do?” her eyes and voice say.

Indeed, what can she do for this always-setting-the-bar-too-high mess of me? I like to think I am a recovering perfectionist, but am I really recovering? Am I putting all of this pressure on myself? Have the “shoulds” taken over?

I think my perfectionism was dampened in Emma’s younger years due to the perfect storm of going through the trauma of divorce, transitioning to single parenthood, and scrambling for income at every turn. It was a period in my life that basically showed me that failure is a launching point. It was the first time I really started seeing and understanding grace at work so that I could accept it and begin to extend it to others.

But I tell you, there are times now since Emma has entered into this age of pushing back and stretching her wings, that I feel like that old person again. It’s like I’m grasping for more control by boxing her in with too high standards and my way of doing things. How can she learn to be her own person, to be her own capable adult, with this kind of perfectionist bullying?

She can’t.

On our chalkboard where we write the dinner possibilities for the week, where there is now a pumpkin face, I sometimes write, “Harp less, encourage more.”

This statement is totally 100% for me and no one else in the house. Not for Emma, not for our cat Mo, not for anyone else who comes to visit. It’s just for me. It’s where I want to live but sometimes find it so hard to live out.

In my mind the week where this important milestone of 14 happened for the one and only time in Emma’s life, looked so different. I was going to be a little more Martha Stewart + Jesus, calm, organized, brilliantly creative and loving. I feel more like Jeff Lewis from Flipping Out, obsessive, frantic, and demanding (minus the psychics and “scream therapy,” though maybe that would help at this point).

And I’m realizing that I need that statement from our chalkboard now more than ever. But this time I need to say it to myself.

“Harp less, encourage more.”

Stop trying to do too much. Stop worrying so much. Stop striving so much. Stop beating yourself up. Hug more. Pause more. Love more. Celebrate.

And maybe, just maybe if I can resolve to put less pressure on myself to be more than I really can be anyway, I can let go and enjoy the process and the time with Emma between here and this celebration and even, God willing, beyond.

Lord, thank you for loving recovering perfectionists like me. Help me, in the moments where I stop to listen to you, and feel your love, to then live out of that reservoir and not return to my silly way of striving and pushing. Amen.

2013/07/09

Grace

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The favored coconut cake

I cook and bake as often as I can, though not as often as I would like. The thought of having time to leisurely shop at the grocery store for a list of delicious ingredients, only to come home and use those ingredients in a recipe (perhaps from my “Food I want to make and eat” list on Pinterest) sounds to me like luxurious hours well spent. Like other foodies, I don’t really linger on one type of cuisine. I have favorite dishes and restaurants inspired by my international taste buds, a product of getting to travel the world with my parents as a child.

However, during holidays and birthdays, I have come to be somewhat of a cake maker. Some of my favorite cake recipes are in the pages of Giada’s Kitchen and Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam. But at the top of the list as voted by friends, family, coworkers and even clergy is absolutely, undeniably my coconut cake.

I once brought two leftover pieces to my church’s music office for our director and associate director of music. I didn’t even have a chance to get the pieces separated on two serving plates. My tasters dug in right there on the paper plate, and one even ate the crumbs off his desk.

Of course, it isn’t my coconut cake. I didn’t develop this recipe of greatness. The recipe is actually in a cookbook by none other than Paula Deen.

Yeah, I know. Paula Deen. I have to say right off that this cake is so good that there is no way that I am boycotting the recipe. It’s actually her son Jamie’s recipe according to the book, not that that makes any difference to me. I’ve been following the story, and this whole Paula Deen thing bothers me. Yes, she is currently being sued for harassment, a case that certainly needs to take it’s course, but the “sin” that has really put her on trial seems to have been almost 30 years old.

I know time may tell a different story, but my point here is not to defend Paula Deen in particular. If we take a look at how people like Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner have seemingly out lived their own scandals in the public eye, Paula Deen should have a lot of hope for her own career.

Celebrity aside, I’m worried that a situation like this says we are in part, living in a graceless age. Consequences are important, don’t misunderstand me. But when a person cannot be forgiven for something like this that happened in the very distant past, what does that say about our society? Are we inadvertently telling people honesty is not always the best policy? I mean does anyone else feel like we may be witnessing a hefty dose of Pharisaical self-righteousness in all of this?

I used to be a pretty self-righteous person myself. It’s a heavy mantle to wear honestly because when you are self-righteous, you just simply cannot screw up. There’s never a moment where you can let your guard down or appear less than perfect. When you are a Pharisee and you do screw up, you instinctively turn up the heat on someone else’s sins if you feel that you might get burned by your own mistakes.

Thanks be to God, I did make mistakes—major ones—and then other life circumstances turned my world upside down. I was tired of the act, so I took a good look at my Pharisee self. And all of that broke me.

And I’m so glad it did because even now as I type these words, tears well up in my eyes in complete and utter gratitude. That refiner’s fire taught me about grace. Before I didn’t understand anything about it, so of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t extend it. I pray that the Kim of those days is dead and gone though I know I need steady reminders to live out my faith with a grace-covered and grace-offering spirit.

I’m imagining that this Paula Deen story may be scary for some people. Beyond the consequences for poor choices, how many of us live in fear that someday, maybe 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now we’ll have to face and confess anew something that was long ago covered in Christ’s blood? Is there fear beyond the comfort of forgiven sins in a world that seems so ready to tear someone down?

As Don Henley helped write in the expertly penned song, “The Heart of the Matter,” 

These times are so uncertain

There’s a yearning undefined

…People filled with rage

We all need a little tenderness

How can love survive in such a graceless age?

I propose it can survive in those of us that understand a little about grace, enough to share it at least. Our forgiven sins and new selves can manifest in grace and show up in the ways we love one another. And when we practice the grace we have experienced, forgiveness and love cease to only be biblical edicts. Grace in practice changes the way we engage with the world around us in the everyday stuff of life.

We show it when we support a friend through a messy divorce; when we give a job to a recovering addict; when we love a pregnant, unmarried teen, and maybe even when we keep making that coconut cake from a star that has fallen from grace in the court of popular opinion.

Dear God, help us to combat the graceless age we live in through the power of your spirit. Help us recognize our own weakness and desperate need for grace and by that recognition extend it to those around us. Amen.

The Heart of the Matter © EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

2012/11/01

In Emergency Push to Open

In emergency, push to open.

Last night, I watched my girl Emma, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, go with friends to celebrate as other kids (and adults) all over the country do, many donning capes and gowns and masks and makeup to hit the streets for some treats or to attend a Halloween party. I noted how some dressed as sweet things like lady bugs and princesses while others went for more dark characters like ghouls and zombies—playing with scary things, fright giving way to smiles or laughter once the realization hits that it’s just a bit of makeup and fake blood.

Playing with fear is much different from living with real fear.

I snapped the picture that I’m using for this post a few months ago. I had just dropped my daughter Emma off at the airport to go to her dad’s for the summer. She was having a rough time and leaving was part of it. The sign on the exit door reminded me of how she was handling it all. She was closing the door to herself, holding back information and her feelings, making it very difficult to know how to help.

At the time, I was worried about her. I had never really seen her like that, but I recognized the new phase we were moving into. Age 12 already felt like 13. Emma being a bit ahead of the curve was no surprise, and the teen angst had been showing up off and on for at least six months.

Fast-forward to today, and that picture is taking on more meaning. Several weeks ago, I began asking, “Where is my little girl?” Everything about Emma was changing. She was disobedient, rebellious, and even rude to my friends at times.

This is normal. This is what it looks like.

But it didn’t feel normal. It felt too sudden and helpless, and my heart felt like bigger things were under the surface. Turns out there were.

I pushed the door open, and in the midst of that I was able to find out at least some of what was going on. On one hand what was on the other side of the door was painful to face, but on another hand, opening it has brought with it hope and some answers.

There is pain, and there are tough, ongoing conversations still to be had. And there is fear—real parental fear. The old adage of taking things one day at a time often becomes taking things moment by moment. Some days are roller coaster days with great highs and deep lows. It helps to know that we are not the first people to ever deal with tough teen stuff, and we are very blessed to be able to seek out the advice of professionals and the love of our family to help.

As a parent, this is by far the toughest time we have gone through. Entrusting Emma to God looked a little different when she was going from diapers to “big girl pants” or from one-night sleepovers to weeklong school trips. Now she has questions about faith and God that I don’t always have the answers to. She feels lost sometimes, and there is a yearning that a mom can’t fix by redirecting her attention to playing with her toys or by determining whether she’s cold, hungry or tired.

Unlike the joy and the relative ease there was in helping her take her first steps, I know that she has to take some of her next steps on her own. And yet, I also realize that in a strange way she needs me more now than ever.

In emergency push to open.

This seems like the biggest thing I can help her learn now. I want her to know that when things get dark or scary or worrisome or confusing that she can be open with me. I want in a small way to show her that my love is big, though nowhere near as big as the love of her Heavenly Father, and that He is always with her even when I’m not.

Just a couple of weeks ago at church, she sang these words from O Vos Omnes with her choir:

(Translation) O all you who pass by the way, pay heed, and see, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. Pay heed, all people, and see my sorrow, if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.

Did she digest the message? Jesus felt great sorrow, and in that we can take comfort. But as I try to look through the lens of my daughter’s eyes, I can see how that idea, how that comfort, could seem far away or frankly unbelievable. God doesn’t always seem near—even to lifelong believers.

And that makes it hard to stay open especially in the midst of a personal crisis or emergency. Yet so often in scripture we are reminded don’t be afraid, and God is talking about real fear—no makeup or fake blood. As one of my favorite verses in the Bible says from John 14:1:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

And later in the same chapter in verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I’m praying this for Emma today and really for anyone who is facing an emergency. Push to open. Trust God.

May we find rest in that place where fear and trouble dissipate through trusting a God of love. Amen.

2012/06/07

Surprise

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Surprise!

A few months ago, my daughter and I took a friend of ours to church.  I had specifically invited him on that day because I knew what my choir was singing.  When we came into the church, the ushers offered us bulletins, but I wouldn’t let our friend take one.  He looked at Emma and I with a confused look. I simply told him that something was going to happen during the service that he would enjoy, and I didn’t want him to read ahead. He smiled and kind of shrugged, and then we walked in to find our seats.

Before the service began, he leaned over and astutely inquired about the music for the day.  I just smiled and said, “You’ll see.”  Temporarily forsaking my place with the first sopranos, I had opted to sit in the congregation because honestly, I had to see his reaction when the music started.

We went through the traditional paces of the service, and all the while I was a little giddy inside knowing what was coming.  I tried my best to be reverent through the prayers and liturgy, but this wonderful tension was building and I kept stealing silly looks at our friend in anticipation.

Finally the moment arrived, and being the musician that he is, our friend only needed a few notes to realize that his favorite song was being sung. I had expected that he would be happy; he looked over at us and shook his head while smiling really big. Then he turned more inward and dropped his head a bit, and I could tell that he was gently crying. The surprise had touched him in a deeper place than I had imagined, and with tears in his eyes he looked at me and mouthed, “thank you” as the glorious music wafted out, swelling in all the familiar and best places and then resolving to a peaceful end.

God surprises us like this.  He puts things into our path, into our hours that make us catch our breath. He knows how beauty and purity can touch us deeply. The sunrise over an ocean, the first kiss from someone we see building a life with, the miracle of a tiny baby in our arms, a letter saying “You’ve been accepted into…,” a long-awaited recovery, and the list goes on.

I find it hard to understand why some people hate surprises, and of course I’m talking about good surprises here. It’s amazing to me that there are people who hate the surprise birthday party or the unplanned weekend trip where someone else has packed the bags.

But there are also people that can’t see or even enjoy a surprise. Numb from pain, boredom, or busyness, they don’t let a surprise touch them.  They don’t lift their head to see the sunrise or stop to feel the kiss.  They don’t connect with the weight of that baby in their arms or let the words, “You’ve been accepted…,” go very deep. They don’t believe in true recovery.

But God is a God of surprise. And if we tune into him expectantly, he will surprise us over and over, giving us unimaginable joy—the kind of joy that only someone who knows us intimately can provide. We have to be awake and aware to enjoy those moments. We may even have to look for them.

Lift your head. Feel. Connect. Let the words go deep. Believe.

P.S. This is the song that surprised our friend. Recognize it?

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